It couldn't have been a more perfect evening to finish off yet another preseason at Heinz Field. I sat on the bench while the Steelers and Panthers went through their paces and GM Kevin Colbert said, "This is like San Diego weather." That it was.
* However gorgeous the weather, the pregame was boring as all get-out. So I sat with punter Jeremy Kapinos and learned that Kapinos, a back-up goalie on his high school soccer team, was really a soccer "goon." Yeah, just like in hockey. There were three brothers (the Carroll brothers), who were great players on Jeremy's team and whenever the opponents started to go after them, Jeremy was sent into the game to "deliver" a message. Got himself a nice collection of yellow cards.
* There were so few people in the stands at the time that I thought the Steelers and Panthers might have to whisper in the huddle. With Ron Rivera continuing the John Fox mantra of playing no starters in the fourth preseason game, there was reason for so many no-shows.
* Charlie Batch got the Steelers off and running on that first drive with a beautifully thrown 37-yard TD pass that just topped out over double coverage and dropped right into the hands of Manny Sanders. Chuck can still get it done.
* Big Snack, Casey Hampton, made his first appearance since Denver and took the field wearing no knee braces. Since he's been through this ACL thing three times, he knows what he's doing. What concerned me more about Hamp was whether his elbow problems would hinder him at all. If he can't fully lock out both arms, Casey has to go chest to chest with an offensive lineman. If that happens he's more upright and vulnerable to getting cut. He also wouldn't have good vision to the ball. Lastly, Casey would have a much harder time disengaging from his opponent when he made a move to the ball carrier. Watching him closely, I'd have to say all my angst was for naught.
* Chris Rainey hit overdrive on the 78-yard punt return that was punctuated by a full on forward flip into the end zone, a la Antonio Brown. Will Allen was feeling much shame after being flagged for holding. Feeling more pain than shame, I would have to believe, is Rainey. He doesn't have much padding in that backside and those flips have to hurt.
* So I'm standing there minding my own business when Ziggy Hood says something to me that I can't hear him. So I take off the headphones and we chat. Ziggy's not playing, just resting but he's bugged because he wants to play. So I remind him that it's better to be a starter and sit for a night than a backup playing an essentially meaningless game. He was copacetic with that.
* Things are slow on the field and even slower in the control room of the Jumbotron. When you show a "replay" on the big board of Willie Colon twitching before the snap, somebody at the switch is bored.
* Jonathan Dwyer is showing me something. Jon is displaying the vision to see a cutback, the feet and balance to get it done, and the power in the open field to drop an el-kabong shoulder on an opponent. What I like was how Jonathan is a two-foot ground contact guy. Rarely does he get hit with one foot in the air like Willie Parker, a long strider, used to. Jon's got those pitter-patter feet. He's looking more and more like a guy who can contribute over the long haul.
* This is interesting. The NFL line judge just yelled at me because he thought I was one of the coaches and had wandered too far away from the bench area. I started laughing and then Ben Roethlisberger, watching the whole thing unfold, began laughing too. I think some of these guys are a little green, to be kind. I know they are in a tough situation, but …
* My pick for training camp phenom, Adrian Robinson, not only started the game at OLB, but he did a good job in all facets of the game. Playing well against the run, Robinson even covered a WR in the flats, as well as put pressure on the QB. Now, if only I can just get Colbert, who makes the decision for our radio team, to vote for Adrian over Tunch Ilkin's pick, Robert Golden.
* Sean Spence just shot a gap and closed on a RB like one of those K-9 Police dogs trained to take down a criminal. Sean looked like a blur. Seeing that closing speed at groundhog level stoked me.
* It's funny to watch a player checking out a replay on the Jumbotron to make sure they either got their assignment right, or if it looked OK. Cortez Allen is doing that right now.
* Funny quote: The Carolina FG drive in the second quarter took longer than the "Second act of Hamlet," according to the "Voice of the Steelers," Bill Hillgrove.
* Great job by Doug Legursky. While pass protecting against Panthers NT Nate Chandler, Bronco trapped both arms or knocked them down when Chandler tried to get a lockout on Doug. To watch skill in close-quarter combat is always intriguing to me, and when it's done textbook as Legursky had just executed, well, it's like watching Picasso paint.
* I know, something's terribly wrong with me.
* At halftime I talked to special teams coach Amos Jones. I asked what Rainey said after the second punt return got called back. Amos looked at me, laughed, and said, "I'm tired."
* It sure seemed like the turf was getting chewed up, especially around the helmet decal at midfield. The Steelers offensive linemen look like gentleman golfers replacing their divots.
* In the second half, Cameron Heyward did something I've never seen before. In four plays, he lost his shoe three times. Are you kidding me? Back-to-back plays his shoe came off his right foot, and then he went out for a play, came back and lost his left shoe. Cam, that's why they spat (tape over the shoes).
* Spence had one of those horrible knee injuries that make your stomach clench up. I didn't see it happen, but I focused on him as he rolled over and sat upright. I knew it was bad because there was a Carolina player standing over him and Sean began gesturing and apparently yelling at the guy which got the Carolina guy waving over at the Steelers' bench for the trainers and docs who were at his side within seconds.
* Ron Rivera has my vote for coach of the year right now for going for a two-point conversion instead of a tie and overtime.
* Cortez Allen went mano-y-mano in the end zone to break up the 2-point conversion attempt by the Panthers that had Ike Taylor meeting Cortez at the 20-yard line. Cortez, though not having his best night, has made great progress throughout camp.
* While sitting outside the Steelers locker room, I watched an impatient Mike Tomlin greet the players as they came up the tunnel. He boomed, "C'mon, Hamp, we got snacks in the back!"
* Who said Tomlin couldn't motivate his troops?